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Arnold and Sheila Aronson Gallery
Sheila C. Johnson Design Center

A living archive of creative and critical responses to the Occupy Wall Street movement by THE NEW SCHOOL community.

Rewriting History with Strangers

Jane Friedhoff, Matthew Willse, and Navit Keren

The average New Yorker is familiar with Zuccotti Park as an occupation site in New York City, yet may not be aware of the myriad sites of resistance in New York City’s history. Despite the protests, marches, and violence that took place within them, the documentation around them, and the veterans who remember them, this history is often lost to massaging and retelling by larger forces in the city. Tompkins Square Park is one example of this: in the 1980s, its population of homeless led the police to invade and inflict what the New York Times called a “police riot,” brutally victimizing the inhabitants and throwing them out–a history rephrased by the Parks Department’s official sign stating that the police and the residents “clashed” and that the homeless were “relocated.” Such changes delete an entire section of history, delegitimize the experiences of many, and scrub the normalcy of protest from the city’s streets. Our project worked to actively fight this tendency by resituating protest back in Tompkin’s Square Park, in the hope of normalizing the practice, giving voice to the history of those who experienced its riots, and reminding the viewer of their agency to create change. By posing with and taking pictures of themselves in the display, viewers are prompted to think about past protest movements in their neighborhoods, their history and relationship with activism, and the connections they share with those currently occupying.